Mind-Boggling Dish Sponge Facts
If you’re wondering how to clean a dish sponge, you came to the right place.
We checked out 10 major research studies to see what scientists have learned about truly getting rid of the germs in your dish sponge.
You know… the different methods they used.
The cleaning agents they tried.
And we summarized their findings for you.
After reading this post, you’ll know exactly how to stop your sponge from devolving into smelly ickiness.
But first, let’s see what’s happening inside that dish sponge.
The life inside your sponge
What concerns most people about the bacteria inside their dish sponge is their sheer quantity.
When a group of German researchers examined used sponges, they found that some contained 82 billion bacteria per cubic inch.
That’s a lot of bacteria!
If you’re thinking that your dish soap has got you covered because it claims to be “antibacterial,” ya’ best enlighten yourself by reading this post.
It doesn't help that kitchen sinks have been proven to be the filthiest area in most homes.
Luckily there are other methods to minimize the intrusion of these unwelcome little friends.
Some of those methods are more effective than others.
We’ve looked at several studies to find out the best way to clean your dish sponge.
How to clean a dish sponge with cleaners
Scientists have tested the effectiveness of lots of different substances for cleaning dish sponges.
Here are five cleaners, both chemical and natural, that scientists tested on dish sponges that came from from real kitchens.
Here’s what the study found:
1. Bleach diluted with water (1:21) kills 99.99% of bacteria
2. Isopropyl alcohol 70% (undiluted) kills 99.83% of bacteria
3. Vinegar (undiluted) kills 98.6% of bacteria
4. Ammonia (1:32) kills 97.6% of bacteria
5. Hydrogen peroxide (undiluted) kills 56.2% of bacteria
Sounds like the solution is simple – just go with bleach right? Not so fast.
Cleaning your dish sponge in highly toxic substances like bleach can harm your health.
Using bleach or ammonia more than once a week elevates your risk of getting asthma. Isopropyl alcohol is toxic, too.
Remember: you use your sponge on the same dishes that you eat on.
The last thing you want is toxic cleaning chemicals lurking inside your sponge to migrate onto your dishes the next time you wash them.
In fact, the fewer the toxins you use when cleaning your sponge, the healthier it is for your body.
So you should avoid strong detergents with harsh chemicals when washing your dish sponge.
Vinegar, on the other hand, is a great disinfectant, getting rid of 98.6% of the bacteria in your sponge. And not only is it non-toxic; it’s edible!
But what if you want to kill more bacteria on your sponge than that, without pouring toxic chemicals all over it? Then you might want to use one of the following methods.
How to clean a dish sponge with heat
High temperatures kill germs. Might this be a good way to clean your dish sponge?
Here are four methods that researchers tested:
1. Microwaving the sponge (one minute at highest power)
2. Washing the sponge with detergent in the dishwasher’s heat cycle
3. Washing the sponge in the washing machine with detergent and bleach
4. Boiling the sponge in water for 5 minutes
They found that each of these methods packed a powerful punch, all of them killing 99.99% of bacteria.
Another study confirmed that, in particular, microwaving your sponge or washing it in the dishwasher reduces the number of bacteria that will later grow back inside the sponge.
Kills germs without chemicals – sounds good, right?
But there’s something you should know about all of the above methods.
The problem with killing germs in dish sponges
While it might sound like a good idea to reduce the bacteria in dish sponges, there’s something most online posts don’t tell you.
A major study found that the only thing you achieve when trying to kill germs in your sponge is to kill the weak ones.
The strongest bacteria survive and repopulate your sponge.
Now your sponge smells more than before.
...Hosts more bacteria than before.
...And is so much more gross in general.
Not exactly the result you’re aiming for, right?
And that’s not even the biggest bombshell.
The bad rap of bacteria in dish sponges
So after all of this talk about how to clean your dish sponge and get rid of bacteria, does their residence in your dish sponge really endanger your health?
No, it does not.
If it did, we’d all be dead by now, because we don’t live in an otherwise sterile environment. Bacteria are found everywhere, and most bacteria in our homes are harmless.
Your phone likely has about 25,000 bacteria per square inch. Your desk has 20,000, your keyboard 3,200, your mouse 1,600, and your shoe laces are covered in (ahem) “stool” bacteria.
In other words: bacteria are difficult to avoid, and for a healthy person, they generally aren’t a problem.
In fact, science has shown that bacteria are generally the opposite of a problem.
These two benefits are especially important for young children whose immune systems are still developing.
But some folks could benefit from reduced exposure to bacteria.
Namely, anyone whose immune systems are compromised.
So if there’s someone living in your household with liver or kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, alcoholism, or HIV, then you better keep that sponge crystal clean.
But as long as everyone’s healthy, there’s not much to worry about.
If you still want to learn ways how to clean your dish sponge and how to reduce the bacteria inside them, then here are some strategies for preventing bacteria growth in the first place.
How to prevent bacteria growth in dish sponges
Bacteria grow in your sponge when they have access to the following:
1. Food residue
4. Warm temperatures
The average kitchen dish sponge provides bacteria with all of these things.
The sponge provides them with nutrients, water, and oxygen, and the temperature in most homes is at a comfortable level – neither too hot nor too warm.
If you want to slow down bacteria growth, here are a few tips:
1. Wash out your sponge to remove small bits and pieces of food to deprive bacteria of nutrients.
2. Wring out the sponge as much as possible to give bacteria less water to work with.
3. Since bacteria need oxygen and warm temperatures, place your sponge in a sealable plastic bag to inhibit airflow, and place it in your freezer when not in use.
4. While the previous 3 tips can help you reduce bacteria in the long run, you’ll want to go one step further to truly eliminate them. Switch out your dish sponge frequently – up to once a week, depending on how often you use your sponge.
If you decide to throw away your sponge more frequently, you should never use the whole dish sponge for a single week.
Instead, before using, always cut a new dish sponge into thirds.
In addition to reducing trash and saving money, this will also provide a smaller sponge-surface-area for bacteria to grow on.
Also, because throwing away your dish sponge every week can create a lot of trash, only buy sponges made from ecologically sustainable materials.
Where to find an eco-friendly dish sponge
A sustainable dish sponge is hard to find.
Most “environmentally-friendly” sponges contain a surprising amount of plastic and harsh chemicals (remember: you use your dish sponge on the dishes you eat from).
A truly natural, biodegradable, and compostable sponge is rare.
But we found one.
This sponge contains no plastic components, and the manufacturer doesn’t use any toxic adhesives either.
This makes it one of a kind.
The price for a 6-pack is reasonable, and comparable to conventional sponges.
If you cut each sponge into thirds, you can switch them out more frequently without being wasteful.
A truly natural sponge may not be as durable as a plastic sponge – but in this case, that’s a good thing.
If you’re switching out your sponge, you don’t need it to last hundreds of years (which is how long a plastic sponge will hang out in the landfill).
Read what other people had to say about the most sustainable sponge there is.
But if you want to give up sponges all together, here’s another sustainable solution.
It was designed for heavy-duty cleaning and is ideal for your pots and pans, but can also be used for cleaning other areas in your home.
The advantages of using a brush over a sponge include:
- The ease at which you can remove bits of food that get stuck inside the brush,
- The lack of bacteria-promoting moisture between the bristles due to increased airflow, and
- The ease of washing them out and cleaning them in comparison to sponges.
Whichever one you opt for, these are two great options for reducing bacteria on your dishes, while being conscientious about your environmental impact.
That leads us to the best solution of all.
How to never get a smelly dish sponge again
The best way to keep your dish sponge free of smelly ickiness is to make it an inhospitable environment for bacteria in the first place.
You can do this without any extra effort – simply by switching to a different dish soap.
The type of dish soap you use makes all the difference.
Dish soap made with lavender essential oil has the power to discourage bacteria growth.
That’s right – instead of killing bacteria, it prevents it from growing in the first place.
Here’s how we know this.
Several studies have examined the lavender essential oil and confirmed that it:
- Has anti-fungal properties, and
If you’re interested in more information about a lavender dish soap to win the battle against bacteria in your dish sponge you can do so right here.
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